The Conservative Party is the largest centre right political party in the United Kingdom. It was formerly called the Tory Party, and its members are still commonly referred to as Tories.

Its current formal name, registered with the UK Electoral Commission but rarely used outside of Scotland and Northern Ireland, is the Conservative and Unionist Party. The formal name is a vestige from the 1912 merger with the Liberal Unionist Party, and an echo of the party's defence (1886-1921) of the union of Great Britain and Ireland and subsequent insistence on British sovereignty in Northern Ireland in opposition to Irish nationalist and republican aspirations.

Table of contents
1 History
2 Tory "sleaze"
3 Leaders of the Conservative Party since 1834
4 Other famous Conservative Politicians
5 Associated Groups
6 External links
7 See also



The modern Conservative Party arose in the 1830s, but has as an ancestor the Tory Party of the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Political alignments in those centuries were much looser than now, with many individual groupings. From the 1780s until the 1820s the dominant grouping was that following William Pitt the Younger and his successors, who gradually came to be called Tories. In the late 1820s disputes over political reform broke up this grouping. A government led by the Duke of Wellington collapsed admidst dire election results. Following this disaster Robert Peel set about assembling a new coalition of forces. Peel issued the Tamworth Manifesto in 1834 which set out the basic principles of Conservatism and that year he formed a temporary government. Later in 1841 he formed a longer lasting administration. The Conservative Party was now fully established as a political force.

The crisis over the Corn Laws

However in 1846 disaster struck when the party split over the repeal of the Corn Laws. Peel and many of the party's leaders, including a young William Gladstone, found themselves adrift from the rank and file of the party. The Peelites never again were a part of the party.

Recovery and triumph under Derby and Disraeli

However the Conservatives survived, even though they would not form another majority government until the 1870s. Under the leadership of the Earl of Derby and Benjamin Disraeli they consolidated their position and presented themselves as a viable alternative. Although Derby managed to lead several minority governments in the 1850s and 1860s, the party was never able to achieve a majority until after the passage of the Reform Act of 1867, which broadened the franchise. Disraeli's mixture of jingoistic nationalism and promises of social reforms managed to win him enough working-class support to win a majority in 1874, but the Conservative hold remained tenuous, and Disraeli was defeated in the election of 1880. It wasn't until the split in the Liberal Party over Irish home rule in 1886 that the Conservatives were able to achieve truly secure majorities through the defection of the Liberal Unionists.

The Unionist Ascendancy

The Conservatives, in coalition with the Liberal Unionists and often called just "Unionists", remained in power for most of the next twenty years, until internal disputes over Joseph Chamberlain's ideas on protection in the early 20th century led to a severe defeat to the Liberals in the General Election of 1906.

The slow return to power

The Conservatives managed to make up much of their losses in the two general elections of 1910 - forcing the Liberals to rely on Irish Nationalist votes to maintain their majority - and during World War I, with the split and then the collapse of the Liberals, the Conservatives under Andrew Bonar Law were able to become the dominant party in Lloyd George's coalition government.

The era of Baldwin

The party reached a new height in the inter-war years under the leadership of Stanley Baldwin. His mixture of strong social reforms with steady government proved a powrful election combination, with the result that the Conservatives governed Britain either by themselves or as the leading component of the National Government for most of the interwar years. But during the Second World War attitudes in Britain changed and the Party failed to adapt. in the 1945 General Election the Conservatives were soundly defeated.

Post war recovery

The Party responded to this by accepting many of the Labour government's social reforms whilst also offering a distinctive Conservative edge, and returning to government in 1951. These years were seen as the height of "consensus politics". However in the 1970s many traditional methods of running the economy, managing relations with trade unions and so on began to fail. At the same time the Labour Party was increasingly dominant, ruling for nearly twelve out of the fifteen years between 1964 and 1979. Many in the Conservative Party were left wondering how to proceed.

The Thatcher Years, 1975-1990

In 1975 the monetarists, led by Keith Joseph and Margaret Thatcher started to challenge leader Edward Heath's authority, and Thatcher was elected leader of the Conservative Party in 1975, becoming leader of the opposition. The Tories capitalised on the Winter of Discontent and the growing inflation rate, not to mention the humiliating bailout of the UK economy by the IMF in 1976, and won the 1979 general election with a majority of 43.

Thatcher became extremely unpopular among the electorate but due to the Falklands War and the perceived "loony left" nature of the Labour Party, won the 1983 general election with a landslide, gaining a majority of 144.

The second and third terms were dominated by privatisations of Britain's many state-owned industries including British Telecom in 1984, the bus companies in 1985, British Gas in 1986, British Airways in 1987, British Leyland, British Steel in 1988.

In 1989, the Community Charge (frequently referred to as the poll tax) was introduced to replace the ancient system of rates which funded local government. This was a flat rate per person, and was very unpopular, as it seemed to be shifting the tax burden onto poor people. Once again Thatcher became very unpopular, but this time the Conservatives thought it might cost them the election. Michael Heseltine, a former cabinet member challenged her for the leadership in 1990. She won the first round, but unconvincingly, and after taking soundings from cabinet members, resigned. In the ensuing leadership election, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, John Major beat Heseltine and Douglas Hurd.

The Major Years: 1990-1997

Major introduced a replacement for the Community Charge, the Council Tax and continued with the privatisations, and went on to narrowly win the 1992 election, with a majority of 21.

However, his first full term was beset with scandals. Many of these were purely about the personal lives of politicians which the media attempted to construe as hypocrisy, but the Cash for Questions affair and the divisions over EU were substantive. In 1995, Major resigned as Leader of the Conservative Party in order to trigger a leadership election which he hoped would give him a renewed mandate, and quieten the Maastricht rebels (people such as Iain Duncan Smith, Bill Cash, Bernard Jenkin).

As the term went on, with by-elections being consistently lost by the Conservatives, their majority reduced and eventually entirely vanished. Getting every vote out became increasingly important to both sides, and on several occasions ill MPs were wheeled into the Commons to vote. Eventually, the Government became a technical minority.

As predicted, the general election was a win for the Labour Party, but perhaps the magnitude of the victory surprised everyone. There was a swing of about 20% in some places, and Labour got a majority of 177. The Conservatives lost all their seats outside of England, and prominent members such as Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind lost their seats. Major resigned within 24 hours.

William Hague: 1997-2001

The ensuing (1997) leadership election was contested by five candidates. The electorate for the contest consisted solely of the 165 Conservative MPs who had been returned to the House of Commons. The candidates were Kenneth Clarke, William Hague, John Redwood, Peter Lilley and Michael Howard. Clarke was the favoured candidate of the Europhile left of the party, while the three latter candidates divided right wing support roughly equally. Hague, who had initially supported Howard, emerged second as a compromise candidate and won the final ballot after Redwood and Clarke negotiated a joint ticket which was derided as an Instability Pact by their opponents (punning on the economic Stability Pact of the European Community).

At first William Hague portrayed himself as a moderniser with a common touch. However by the time the 2001 general election came he concentrated on Europe, asylum seekers and tax cuts whilst declaring that only the Conservative Party could "Save the Pound". He was seen as a political lightweight by many, and was widely mocked for his claim he used to drink 14 pints of beer a day. Despite a low turnout (usually a good sign for the party), the election resulted in a net gain of a single seat for the Conservative Party and William Hague's resignation as party leader.

Iain Duncan Smith: 2001-2003

A new leadership electoral system designed by Hague resulted in five candidates competing for the job: Michael Portillo, Iain Duncan Smith, Kenneth Clarke, David Davis and Michael Ancram. The drawn out and at times acrimonious election saw Conservative MPs select Iain Duncan Smith and Ken Clarke to be put forward for a vote by party members. As Conservative Party members are characteristically Eurosceptic, Iain Duncan Smith was elected, even though opinion polls showed that the public preferred Ken Clarke, a member of the Tory Reform Group.

Iain Duncan Smith (often known as IDS) was a strong eurosceptic but this did not define his leadership - indeed it was during his tenure that Europe ceased to be an issue of division in the party as it united behind calls for a referendum on the proposed European Union Constitution. Duncan Smith's Shadow Cabinet contained many new and unfamiliar faces but despite predictions by some that the party would lurch to the right the team instead followed a pragmatic moderate approach to policy.

In October 2003 (week beginning October 27) there were strong calls for Iain Duncan Smith to resign as leader or face a vote of confidence. Under the rules of the Conservative party, the back bench Conservative 1922 Committee will review the leadership, and in order for this to take place the chairman of the committee, Sir Michael Spicer must be presented with 25 letters proposing a vote.

On 28 October sufficient letters were presented to the chairman of the 1922 Committee to initiate a vote of confidence in Iain Duncan Smith. The vote was conducted on 29 October, and IDS lost 90 to 75.

Michael Howard: 2003 to Present

Duncan Smith remained as caretaker leader until Michael Howard, MP for Folkestone and Hythe, was elected to the post of leader (as the only candidate) on 6 November 2003.

Howard announced radical changes to the way the Shadow Cabinet would work. He slashed the number of members by half, with Theresa May and Tim Yeo each shadowing two government departments. Minor departments still have shadows but have been removed from the cabinet, and the post of Shadow Leader of the House of Commons abolished. The role of party chairman has also been split into two, with Maurice Saatchi responsible for the party machine, and Liam Fox handling publicity. Michael Portillo was offered a position but refused, due to his plans to step down from Parliament at the next election.

Also, a panel of 'grandees', including John Major, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague and notably Kenneth Clarke has been set up to advise the leadership as they see fit.

On 2 January 2004, influenced by Saatchi, Howard has defined a personal credo and list of core beliefs of the party.

Tory "sleaze"

A number of political scandalss in the 1980s and 1990s created the impression of what is described in the British press as "sleaze": a perception that the Conservatives were associated with political corruption and hypocrisy. In particular the successful entrapment of Graham Riddick and David Tredinick in the "cash for questions" scandal, the contemporaneous misconduct as a minister by Neil Hamilton (who lost a consequent libel action against The Guardian), and the convictions of former Cabinet member Jonathan Aitken and former party deputy chairman Jeffrey Archer for perjury in two separate cases have damaged the Conservatives' public reputation. Persistent false rumours about the activities of the party treasurer Michael Ashcroft have not helped this impression.

At the same time a series of revelations about the private lives of various Conservative politicians also grabbed the headlines and both the media and the party's opponents made little attempt to clarify the distinction between financial conduct and private lives.

John Major's "Back to Basics" morality campaign back-fired on him by providing an excuse for the British media to expose "sleaze" within the Conservative Party and, most damagingly, within the Cabinet itself. A number of ministers were then revealed to have committed sexual indiscretions, and Major was forced by media pressure to dismiss them. In September 2002 it was revealed that, prior to his promotion to the cabinet, Major had himself had a longstanding extramarital affair with a fellow MP, Edwina Currie

Since this time, the Conservative Party has worked hard to try to regain the moral high ground.

Leaders of the Conservative Party since 1834

Until 1922 there was no formal "Leader of the Conservative Party". The leaders of Conservative MPs and Conservative peers were regarded as coequal unless one of them was either the Prime Minister or a former Prime Minister, or if a particular crisis (as in 1846-1847 or 1916) had resulted in one clearly asserting authority over the other. In the periods when this was not the case (1881 - 1885, 1911 - 1916, 1921 - 1922) there was no clear "Leader of the Conservative Party" - this contributed to some of the internal party conflict at the time.

In 1911 the Parliament Act reduced the power of the Lords and it seemed likely that the leader in the Commons would be preeminent, however this was not formally recognised for another eleven years (and there were several occassions when members of the Lords were strongly considered for the leadership of the whole party after this time). From 1922 an overall leader has been formally elected by a joint meeting of MPs, Peers and prospective parliamentary candidates, even when the party is in opposition. Initially until 1965 this election consisted of the individual who had been already asked by the monarch to form a government being ratified by the meeting (the leadership did not fall vacant at any time when the party was in opposition in this period), however more recently a succession of ballots have been held in order to chose between competing candidates.

The distinction of the leaders is oftern overlooked by many and there are lists in circulation that assume the eventual single leader who emerged after a period of coequal leadership was the leader from the outset. This was simply not the case - for example in 1881 it was widely expected that the Commons leader Sir Stafford Northcote would be the next Conservative Prime Minister but by the time the party had returned to government in 1885 political developments had resulted in the Lords leader Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne-Cecil, 3rd Marquess of Salisbury having the stronger claimant for the premiership.

The Parliament Act was passed at this point and many now viewed the House of Commons leader as superior, however this was not automatic.

In 1922 Andrew Bonar Law returned to frontline politics but he felt that in the circumstances of the Carlton Club Meeting he could not accept the King's commission to form a government until he had been confirmed as "Leader of the Conservative Party". He therefore sought election by a combined meeting of Conservative members of the Commons, Lords and prospective parliamentary candidates, thereby establishing a formal position of party leader.

Other famous Conservative Politicians

Associated Groups

Full list is at:
List of organisations associated with the British Conservative Party

See also: British politics, Thatcherism, Euroscepticism

External links

Official Party sites

Internal party policy groups

See also